Covid-19: Could a vaccine be obligatory in Switzerland?

While the coronavirus vaccine is still being developed and may not become widely available before next year, Swiss authorities are already saying that the immunisation won't be forced upon members of the public.

Covid-19: Could a vaccine be obligatory in Switzerland?
The Covid-19 vaccine can't be forced, authorities say. Photo by AFP

Back in April, Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said that “Swiss law does not allow us to force someone to get vaccinated against their will”. 

This stance is reiterated by Dominique Sprumont, deputy director of the Institute of Health Law at the University of Neuchâtel.

In an interview this week with the television station RTS, Sprumont said the vaccine will be compulsory, “but compulsory does not mean forced”. 

He explained that immunisation will be obligatory for people in certain jobs, such as healthcare professionals and others whose work brings them in close contact with the public.

But others “can’t be compelled by force to vaccinated”, he added.

However, he said that the public should be made aware of the benefits the vaccine would have in protecting society from the risk of another pandemic.

“This would be beneficial not just for health but also for the economy”, Sprumont pointed out.

He expects the anti-vaccine lobby (called anti-vaxxers) in Switzerland to become vocally opposed to the immunisation, as they have in case of measles vaccines. 

But given the extent of the Covid-19 outbreak in Switzerland — at least 31,000 cases and 1,110 deaths — opposition to the vaccine “would be very selfish”, he said.

“These people have forgotten the consequences of serious infectious diseases” that used to be prevalent in Switzerland and other developed nations” before vaccines were developed”, Sprumont said.

Berset pointed out in April that if the controversy arises when the vaccine becomes available, ““we would hope to resolve this problem pragmatically, as we've always done in our country”.

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‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

Though Covid has not been a nationwide problem in Switzerland during recent several months, the virus is circulating again and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

'Over a million people' in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

While the new wave has not been expected to hit before fall or winter,  Swiss health officials now say 15 percent of Swiss population — more than 1 million people — could catch the virus before then.

This is a large number, considering that a total of 3.7 million people in Switzerland got infected since the beginning of the pandemic on February 24th, 2020.

“More than 80,000 new contaminations per week” are expected in the next two months, according to Tanja Stadler, the former head of the Covid-19 Task Force — much more than during the past two summers, when the rate of infections slowed down.

At the moment, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reports 24,704 new cases in the past seven days — double of what it was in April.

“The numbers are expected to continue to rise. Note that most of infected people will not be tested, so the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler added.

Although according to FOPH, nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are less severe that the original Covid viruses, “more vulnerable people are likely to end up in hospital, and long Covid cases are also likely to rise”, she said.

Stadler also noted that Omicron virus can’t be compared with the flu, “because we observe long-term consequences much more often during an infection with Omicron than during the flu. Also, Covid can trigger very large waves, even in summer, while large flu outbreaks are rare at this time of year”.

There is, however, some positive news.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, Stadler said.

Also, “in the long term, things will stabilise. But in the years to come, there will probably be waves in the summer too”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland roll out second Covid boosters?